“David had told the story he came to tell”: A Neighbours legacy

Neighbours hosted the first TV wedding after marriage equality passed in Australia, but in soap it's the quiet storylines that also need acknowledgment.

Neighbours fans watched through tears last week as David Tanaka met a soapie death, ending the show’s long running same-sex bliss with husband Aaron Brennan.

When Takaya Honda and Matt Wilson were wed on screen by a marriage celebrant played by Magda Szubanski in 2018, theirs was TV’s first gay wedding since marriage equality was passed in Australia. It followed storylines about accepting his own sexuality, while stories of surrogacy and shared parenting followed later.

In recent years Honda had also made the decision to move on as an actor.

“I had a meeting with the script team asking, ‘What storylines do you have left that you’d want to use the vehicle of David and Aaron to tell?'” he tells TV Tonight.

“Essentially they wanted us to be the next Karl and Susan, as two gay parents instead of a heterosexual couple, which was fine, but I’d been on the show for quite a while. All the important stories that they’d wanted to tell with us had been told.”

Knowing when to leave was a decision he struggled over.

“I realised ‘David will tell me when it’s a good time to leave.’ I felt like at that point in time, David had told the story he came to tell and so that was my reasoning to leave, because I felt like what was left to be told could be picked up by others. I think Remi (Naomi Rukavina) and Cara (Sara West), are doing that pretty much and I think that Aaron, Nicolette (Hannah Monson) and Isla (Hana Abe-Tuckerwill) continue to do that as well,” he explains.

“I didn’t get into acting for comfort”

“It wasn’t an easy decision by any means. It would be way easier for me to just stay on the show. It’s a much harder decision for me to leave. But I didn’t get into acting for comfort and I didn’t get into acting for staying in the same job. I got into acting because I wanted to tell specific kinds of stories. I want to be able to reach people with different kinds of messages … I felt it was time for me to go elsewhere to do that.”

Executive Producer Jason Herbison maintained that David’s love for Aaron meant there weren’t many options for the character to logically depart.

“Jason had said, ‘If David leaves it would be jail or death. There’s no other reason that David would leave.'”

Indeed, David was even jailed in 2022 before Neighbours‘ famous conclusion. There had even been early discussions around a possible earthquake hitting the jail, but with the show ‘ending’ he was instead given a happy conclusion -until the show was revived in 2023.

“A lot of the fans have been thinking there’s going to be an earthquake on the street”

“I mentioned that somewhere else and a lot of the fans have been thinking there’s going to be an earthquake on the street at some point. A lot of the stuff that goes around between the fans … are whisper games, and they’ll start believing it’s true.”

He agreed to return for the latest chapter to conclude their storyline, tragically dying at the bottom of cliff, but as a hero afforded some atonement for past storylines. His departure also effectively opens up new storylines for Matt Wilson’s Aaron and family members.

Honda is also grateful to writers and producers for the inclusion of David and brother Leo (Tim Kano), both of Asian-Australian heritage, as simply being part of Erinsborough’s cultural tapestry.

“They’re just other human beings that exist in this world”

“In the same way with all the LGBTQIA+ characters that come onto the show there has been an effort that the storyline is not the about the minority that they exist in. Mackenzie (Georgie Hargreaves) is just another character on the show, and has the same sort of storylines that anybody else does. Yes, there’s the added interest that is created by her being trans, or by our characters being gay, but they’re just other human beings that exist in this world,” he continues.

“How they might approach a situation or who they might approach a situation with, is different, but that just makes for a more interesting storyline and opens people’s eyes.”

He has received plenty of mail from young LGBTQIA+ viewers seeing representation on screen.

“On top of that, hearing from siblings, friends or parents who watch the show. The show and the representation it’s provided has opened the eyes of the parents. They’re like, ‘David’s alright, that guy’s okay.’ So it will demystify what was potentially foreign for them. It decreases their ignorance of what people might think of someone who’s gay.”

“The show doesn’t really get the credit it deserves for what it’s done”

While much publicity rightly surrounded the gay wedding of 2018, Honda feels Neighbours has achieved much through its less noisy storylines.

“The show doesn’t really get the credit it deserves for what it’s done on the television landscape in Australia in that way. It’s praised at the big moments -a wedding is always gonna be a big moment. But just the general week to week stuff that exists, the normality that is presented in what is a normal situation, is really what should be celebrated. Because it doesn’t happen often,” he maintains.

“Often, characters will come in, they’ll confess their love for their best friend who isn’t interested and then they leave. That’s been a trope for so long. Or they have some terminal illness. Neighbours has done something way harder than any of that, putting what is normally foreground into the background, and just seeing how people with different perspectives or from different backgrounds approach the same situation.

“In the soap world that’s brilliant because you get so many more storylines, and so many more different perspectives.”

Ramsay Street locals farewell David at 4pm next Tuesday on 10.

15 Responses

  1. When a character returns just to be killed off, I often wish that they’d left it at the happy ending, but David’s swansong was a touching story of redemption. Well done to the writers and cast.
    Oh and I too have stuck with Neighbours. The fans in Australia must all be here on this page. Given the ratings and the fact that I don’t physically know more than one other person that watches.

    1. One of my students told me that her grandmother watches the show religiously and has done “since it started about 50 years ago!”. That made me feel slightly ancient (although correcting her with “It’s only been 39 years since it started!” really didn’t make much of a difference to a 14 year old 🙂 ).

  2. Great read David i have been one viewer that has stuck with them through there high and lows,and it’s certainly a good point with Neighbours.They tend to flow under the radar,but they still produce very good stuff.People talking about ratings but with the show screening twice a day the show does not appear on the ratings sheet.Neighbours would get the at least same amount in total watching like of recent years.But maybe even more than that because of the different time slots

  3. I don’t understand why Neighbours doesn’t rate well for 10.
    It’s on fire at the moment. It’s dramatic, funny, inclusive. Pacing is good, nice touches with new filming techniques and editing.
    Love how it acknowledges its past but looks to the future.
    Do you have consolidated viewing figures, 10, 10 Play and Amazon combined?

    By the way. Someone give Stefan Dennis an acting award. He’s just been brilliant recently.

  4. Couldn’t agree more Melbinuk. I do want to say I found Stefan Dennis particularly was outstanding. Also the work the makeup department did just added so much to show how distraught he was

  5. I have watched “Neighbours” since the very first episode. And like a lot of viewers, shed tears when David died. The acting and writing from all involved in those scenes were outstanding by all. It’s always interesting reading an actor’s perspective of their character. What a wonderful thing to be able to tell a story this way. I will miss David Tanaka. But I wish Takaya Honda all the very best in whatever he does in the future, I know it will be wonderful. And I thank him, and all at Neighbours, for David Tanaka.

  6. You do these long form pieces so well, David. A great story. David and Aaron were certainly a pioneering couple for Australian TV. Good luck to Takaya on his next endeavours – he seems like a great guy!

  7. With the exception of the entire month of July 2022 for its finale, it’s been close to a decade since I’ve watched Neighbours, but this article has really made me want to watch it again. And although the episodes are on Amazon Prime Video, I’m so far behind I wonder if I’ll ever be able to catch up lol.

  8. Thanks for another great interview, David. Your coverage of interviews/reports with Neighbours have been great.

    Know it’s outside the top 30, but do we know what Neighbours ratings have been? Have they had an increase with the David storyline?

    The acting from the primary cast involved in this storyline has been outstanding.

    1. The show’s ratings have been on the up since David’s death on Feb 1st. His death was he highest rated since the revival premiere episode and the following weeks have seen a decent lift on 2023 figures.
      I agree with everyone, the acting has been outstanding and the show is really on top form. It’s a shame it doesn’t have the audience Home and Away gets.

Leave a Reply